You’ve heard, “Kill your darlings.” Well, I’m here to tell you to “Murder the myth.”
Every writer I meet or work with comes with the mistaken belief that good writing is the ability to describe the scene or picture as it exists in his or her mind. They spend inordinate amounts of time trying to force the duplication of that picture with the over use of adjectives and adverbs. Great writing is not reporting. Readers are reading because they want to imagine their own idea of the event or picture. You supply the hint, the reader fills it in.
Readers want to use their imagination. It is why they read. They don’t want the author to destroy the number-one reason they purchased a book–to live inside its pages.
Narrative descriptions must allow readers to come to their own conclusions—to imagine what is happening. They don’t want to be given the details of what is happening. If a reader can’t engage his or her imagination (picture) of what is happening, there is no reason to read. Reading is an interactive experience.
Read this from Pat Conroy’s Prince of Tides: “From my mother I inherited a love of language and an appreciation of nature. She could turn a walk around the island into a voyage of purest discovery. As a child, I thought she was the most extraordinary woman on earth. I wasn’t the first son to be wrong about his mother.” Conroy doesn’t tell you what’s wrong. He leaves it to your imagination. He doesn’t even say his mother is a bad mother. The only thing the reader wants to do is to find out why and what could have happened. The reader imagines what might be the reason and the reader is intrigued to read more. This is the essence of “show don’t tell.”